William Louis (W.L.) Patenaude

W.L. (Bill) Patenaude of West Warwick, Rhode Island, is a mechanical engineer and holds a Master of Arts in theology. He is a 33-year employee with Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management and has been speaking and writing about the intersection of faith and ecology since 2004.

In 2018, Bill published his debut novel, A Printer’s Choice, which uses the popular genres of science fiction and murder mysteries to examine the intersection of faith, philosophy, and the power of free will. Set in 2088, in a world damaged by war and eco-crises, the novel asks important questions about the choices humanity is making today, why we are making them, and how we can choose to make a better world here and now.

As he continues to write about faith and ecology, Bill is writing the sequel for A Printer’s Choice.

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How long have you been writing for and how much of that time have you spent writing fiction?

I’ve been writing social commentary since 2004. I’ve been writing science fiction since 2015.

What’s the average word count for the books you write and how long does it take you to write your average book?

A Printer’s Choice, my debut novel, took about four years to write, edit, and publish. The sequel is taking appreciably longer as other obligations (mostly related to caretaking of an elderly parent) take the bulk of my time. A Printer’s Choice is just over 80,000 words and takes about seven hours to read.

What is your writing routine (Do you have a daily word count goal? Do you write whenever the spirit moves you?)

It helped that the protagonist of A Printer’s Choice is a retired US Marine. In speaking with Marines during my research phase, I was inspired by their work ethic. By their determination. So, when writing the novel, I made sure I wrote something every day—even if just a paragraph or two. After all, writing is like anything else. The more you keep at it, the better you become.

For the type of fiction I write, serious research is also needed, and that can slow one’s daily word count to almost zero. But even then, I make sure I write SOMETHING just to keep up the momentum.

How much do you research for a book before you start writing?

Significant amounts. And then, while writing, a change in direction or a new plot element may require additional research.

For the sequel of a A Printer’s Choice, I’ve been working with two experts in orbital mechanics as well as a retired US Marine who is an expert in battle tactics. Looking ahead, I need to research details on the Southwest US as well as the geography of Croatia, particle physics, and the theology of forgiveness. Some of this research is for major plot elements. Some is for minor moments of dialogue. But it’s all needed to tell a story that’s rooted in the near future and often in places that people know today.

Now, you can overdo it. You can be so intrigued by real-world minutiae that you drown the reader in “look what I know” prose. If I have one major criticism of A Printer’s Choice, it’s that, in the first third of the book, I sometimes did just that. So now, I try to balance accuracy with the pace of the story and with the creativity that makes for good speculative fiction.

What do you find most difficult about writing a book?

Writing the book was relatively easy. So was working with editors. It was (and is) the marketing that’s brutal. But we’ll get into that in another question.

Which of your books are you most proud of and why?

A Printer’s Choice. It’s the only one completed and published!

Which of your books was the most difficult to write and why?

A Printer’s Choice. It was my first and only thus far! So far, the sequel is benefiting from the lessons learned in writing A Printer’s Choice, which should make book two much easier to write going forward.

Which self-publishing platform do you like the most and why?

I collaboratively published with Izzard Ink. Izzard had (and has) many of the resources I was looking for to create a solid product, and they’re flexible about what resources of theirs you use and which ones you don’t.

Would you publish with a traditional publisher if they contacted you? Why?

Maybe. But it would have to be a fair deal and they’d have to be able to work with me on some of the creative flexibility that I have with Izzard, and with the rest of the team of freelance editors, etc.

How many unfinished or unpublished works do you have?

One. The sequel for A Printer’s Choice.

Do you prefer creating stand-alone books or series?

My preference relies on the story. Besides the planned series for A Printer’s Choice, I have in mind a standalone novel about the struggles and joys of caring for an elderly parent with Parkinson’s, as I have been doing for almost ten years. That novel will most assuredly have a beginning, middle, and end.

What’s one character you wish you would have created? What do you find compelling or interesting about this character?

Great question! At the moment, I have no answer for this.

What book do you wish you would have written? Why?

Currently, I’m on track with my novel writing. I’ve written the one I wanted and am working on the ones to come (albeit slowly).

Do you find it challenging to write characters of a different gender, race, or culture than you? Do you do any special research for these characters?

Research? Yes. That’s always needed when writing about something or someone unfamiliar to one’s own life and experiences. And then you have beta readers and editors tell you what works and what doesn’t, and then you rewrite and rewrite until you get to where you need to be.

Is it difficult? Ultimately, no. Because at our core, humanity shares the common realities of a soul, of a shared evolution, and of the joys and sufferings that come with loving the people that we do.

What does success as a writer look like for you?

This is another great question. I suppose on one level, it would be name recognition, lots of sales, and Hollywood movie deals. But, while that would all be well and good, I’ve learned that success is really hearing from just one reader, someone you’ve never met or spoken to, and they rave about your work—about how it moved them and how the ideas they encountered inspired them.

Writing can be a lonely job. Do you take any special steps to ensure you remain part of the world?

The gym, time with friends, and attending Sunday Mass are the three principal ways I not just remain part of the world, but to also allow my mind to process new ideas and solutions for whatever I am writing. After all, one can’t write a compelling story without first and always living in the real story of life.

Constantly sitting and writing can be physically debilitating. How do you take care of yourself, physically?

The gym. By itself, in clears the mind and gets the blood flowing. But there’s something else: When I’m there, I’m surrounded by people of all abilities and conditions who are pushing themselves to grow and become better, either athletically or just healthier, whatever their physical goal. Those are the sort of people that inspire me to push myself not just for strength training but for growth in general as a person–even as a writer!

Do you read your reviews? How do you deal with bad ones?

Fortunately, I’ve gotten many more positive reviews than negative. The trade reviews for A Printer’s Choice have all been quite positive. Reader reviews are mostly positive (for instance, 4.3/5.0 on Amazon). That said, some readers don’t appreciate either my style, my detailed world building, or, most often, the role of faith in science fiction. That last critique is the most frustrating—especially when it’s clear that the reviewer didn’t finish the book. But, as many in the industry tell me, that’s the life of being an author.

I would add that it’s the trade and academic reviews that are quite helpful to build both name recognition and status with readers. If you have good reviews from professional reviewers and serious readers, you’re more likely to be read and appreciated by others.

What books have you read that were particularly inspiring?

As a writer: Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, because his writing is just so good. He creates scenes and interpersonal interactions with the lightest touch and fewest words.

As a sci-fi writer: Arthur C. Clarke, because he takes time with real-world details, such as orbital mechanics and other realities that excite the space geek inside me. (That said, I take some issue today with many of Clarke’s worldviews, which a reader may suspect when they read A Printer’s Choice.)

Do you have a favourite author? A favourite book?

Ah, the dreaded questions! There’s so many beautiful stories spun by so many talented writers that I cannot say this book or that one. This author or that one. That said, if I HAD to choose because the fate of the world depended on it, it would be The Lord of the Rings. Beautiful writing and world building, and a most amazing light that shines through Tolkien’s story, because at the heart of the story is something that he and I share: our Catholic faith.

Do you plot your stories in great detail before starting to write, or fly by the seat of your pants?

Oddly enough, both. I plot out the general arc of the story. Then, I let the characters, dialogue, and new ideas inspire me.

What surprised me when writing A Printer’s Choice is that oftentimes I went full circle. I’d have an idea, abandon it, then find my characters in the very situation that I envisioned in the first place. It goes to show that there’s a true subconscious force when one writes. We just can’t be afraid to follow it!

Of all the characters in your stories, which is your favourite?

This is a tie, surprisingly, because I did a bit of soul searching to write the protagonist, Fr. John McClellan. He took a lot of research, too, as he’s a retired corporal in the United States Marines. His internal tensions between priest and soldier, along with his sense of humor, make him something of a fan favorite, and one of mine, too.

But, in the end, he’s tied with Elaina Jansen, the chief engineer of the grand orbital world of New Athens. Her character took on a life I hadn’t expected in her sometimes heated, often humorous interactions with McClellan about faith, reason, and murder. At first, Jansen, an avowed atheist, is suspicious of McClellan. But McClellan, a former atheist, can spar with her in ways that Jansen doesn’t expect. The two grow truly fond of each other and respect each other by the novel’s ending, even under the difficult circumstances of dealing with the revelation of who was the murderer, and why.

Have you based any characters on real people? If they found out, how did they respond?

No, not overtly. Although, for Fr. McClellan, I was able to flesh out his life of faith and failings based on friendships with real priests and military chaplains. Developing the book’s “engineers” and “builders” benefited from my work overseeing municipal water pollution control infrastructure, which has long-standing tensions between design engineers and the men and women who operate and maintain the final infrastructure.

What’s the best thing about being an independent author? The worst?

The best is the speed with which you can get out your work and the freedoms that come with calling the shots. Whether it’s the cover art or the final edits, you’re the boss—for better or for worse.

The worst aspect is the marketing. While traditional publishers may not throw big bucks at a new, unknown author, they do have existing marketing infrastructure that can typically spend much more than we independents. Their networks alone generally are the envy of most indie authors—and that’s something one must consider when choosing the independent route.

Do you make a living selling your books?

Not quite! But independent authors need to be in the game for the long haul. Because of what I just mentioned, that we don’t have the marketing tools of traditional publishers, we need more time to get out the word of who we are and why our works matter.

What advice would you give to a new author?

If you’re going the independent road, spend the time and money to create a good product—a professionally edited, sharp-looking work that gets a reader’s attention with the cover and with a well-told story.

At the same time, plan early and have the funds for a solid marketing campaign. Work on trade reviews for a helpful praise page and cover reviews. Put together a solid book launch. Schedule local book signings. Use your existing networks to network to others. And don’t stop. Keep marketing. Keep reaching out. And keep writing!

And never, ever let discouragement stop you from writing your next work or selling the ones you’ve already finished.

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